How to Survive Hypothermia in the Wilderness

 How to Survive Hypothermia in the WildernessHypothermia is a drop in the temperature of the body, medically defined as being below 95° F. The condition usually first shows itself by intense shivering -- the body's attempt to increase its temperature. Wilderness trips in which an individual may labor intensively in the cold and wet are very conducive to the onset of hypothermia, since wet clothing acts as a conductor to draw heat away from the body. By recognizing the symptoms and knowing the right course of action, it's possible to help wilderness victims of hypothermia survive and recover.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Dry clothing
  • Sleeping bag or blanket
  • Camp stove or fire
  • Warm liquids
Step 1
Identify the condition. Hypothermia can strike suddenly, but usually there is a range of progressive symptoms that become evident as the victim succumbs. These can start with shivering, clumsiness, and slurred speech, progressing into confusion and apathy, drowsiness, and then shallow breathing and a low pulse rate.

It's not uncommon for the victim to be unaware that he or she is suffering from hypothermia because of the gradual onset of symptoms. Be sure that all members of your party are aware of the symptoms and check each other during weather conditions conducive to hypothermia.
Step 2
Seek shelter. Once you've identified that a person is suffering from hypothermia, it's essential to remove him or her from the elements and seek shelter as soon as possible. This may be difficult in a wilderness situation -- setting up a tent or tarp is ideal, but even being able to shelter under a tree or rock overhang will help.
Step 3
Remove wet clothes. Cool and rainy conditions are one of the most common times for hypothermia to occur, but even excessive sweating on a cold day can contribute to its onset. Wet clothes act as a conductor to draw the heat out of the body, so it's essential that any wet clothes are removed immediately, and dry clothes substituted if possible.
Step 4
Once you've gotten the victim into shelter and into dry clothing, it's essential to rewarm the body externally. The simplest method is to wrap the victim in blankets, sleeping bags, or any other other warm coverings. Once this is achieved, another useful step is to introduce another warm object next to the victim. A water bladder filled with warm water is a good wilderness alternative to a hot water bottle. Having another member of your party lie next to the victim to share body heat is also very effective, assuming that person is dry and not at risk for hypothermia himself. Lighting a fire to increase the ambient temperature of your shelter area is an excellent course of action, if possible.
Step 5
Rewarm the body internally. While rewarming the body externally, start your camp stove or light a fire and warm some liquids for the victim to drink. Only give liquids to the victim if he or she is conscious -- don't attempt to force-feed liquids while he or she is are unconscious. The caloric value of the liquid is unimportant, so even hot water is fine. Have the victim drink the liquids slowly and steadily.

Article Written By Nichole Liandi

Based in Virginia, Nichole Liandi has been a freelance writer since 2005. Her articles have appeared on various print and online publications. Liandi has traveled extensively in Europe and East Asia and incorporates her experiences into her articles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from West Virginia University.

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